The ancient Italian art of spinning ‘sea silk’ is all but lost, save for one woman who still knows how to produce the incredibly rare, almost magical fabric. While modern silk is spun from silkworms, Chiara Vigo can harvest the saliva of a rare variety of clam and spin it into a shiny, gold-like material called byssus.
Legend has it that byssus was the cloth that God instructed Moses to lay on the first altar. It is believed to be the finest fabric known to Egypt, Greece, and Rome. If treated properly with lemon juice and spices, the remarkable material shines when exposed to the sun. It is also incredibly light, so much so that the wearer cannot even feel it touching the skin. It is said to be as thin as a spider web, resistant to water, acids, and alcohols.
Vigo gathers the raw material required to weave the cloth every spring – she goes out diving early in the morning to cut the solidified saliva of a large clam, the Pinna Nobilis, an endangered fan-shaped species of mollusc that is native to the Mediterranean Sea bed. Vigo has mastered a special cutting technique that allows her to take the secreted material without killing the rare creature. 300 to 400 dives later, she is able to gather about 200 grams of material.